NEW YORK — During a recent performance, Mary J. Blige had what we now call a “wardrobe malfunction.” She was dancing around in a bustier and noticed some young women in the front row yelling at her. “They were saying, ‘Your nipple is out!’”

Blige fixed the problem immediately, of course, but it made her realize something important: The last thing she’s looking for when outfitting herself on tour is drama. “I need clothes,” Blige says. “Not the handkerchiefs they’re selling now.”

This story first appeared in the April 22, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Blige, who plays Radio City Music Hall this weekend, needs pieces that give her the flexibility to move around. “It’s got to be loose-fitting stuff. The jeans have to have stretch and they have to make me happy.” Dolce & Gabbana provided Blige’s wardrobe for the last tour in 2002, but it was all put together at the last minute, and the singer didn’t get as much time as she would have liked for fittings. “A lot of the stuff wound up being too low-cut,” Blige says. “And low-cut jeans don’t work for me. My behind is low and high at the same time, and I refuse to have my behind showing.”

When Blige’s friend, June Haynes, left Dolce to become a buyer at Valentino, she suggested Valentino might be a good option. “I told her, ‘Let’s see what y’all got,’” says Blige, who, as it happens, liked what she saw. “Valentino makes stuff for people who carry a lot of behind,” Blige explains, adding that she is one of those people. “They make it for Naomi Campbell, sure, but they have it for your regular-size chick. Not your size 12, I guess, but your sizes 7, 8, 9 and 10.”

Blige doesn’t wear Valentino shoes on stage — “Those are go-out-and-have-a-nice-time dinner shoes,” she quips — and sports sneakers and mules instead, which give her more mobility. But everything else she wears, from a turquoise jumpsuit to a white jean suit, comes directly from Valentino. “I cannot ever remember a time when I wasn’t wearing designer stuff on stage,” Blige says. “And I love designer clothes.”

In fact, Blige likes designer clothes so much that she’s hoping to finally fulfill her long-held dream of starting her own fashion line. “I want people to dress the way I dress. I’m all about the belly button, but my butt crack doesn’t jump out and my shirt’s not too small. I’m going for the look that says I’m not trying too hard to do anything.”

She’s especially interested in making clothes for women aged 28 to 40 — “You know, the people that appreciate a sense of respectable style” — and hopes to have a line in stores by spring 2005. “I’ve got to get with someone who appreciates clothes,” Blige says. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but now I have a reason. I really want women to be comfortable like I’m comfortable, even when they walk down the street.”

— Marshall Heyman

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